Friday, June 19, 2009

Adventure in the Luberon

Our day trip with Nell & Dylan began early at 9:30am at the Gare St. Charles. We had ordered an automatic rental car for the day and Nell had volunteered to drive for us. We were surprised to find that first of all, the car we were suppose to have was not parked in the correct spot in the garage, and that our "car" was actually a mini-van. Those of you who have not driven in France before, should know that a mini-van on the streets here is just ridiculous. We should have had a little 4 seater car, but I guess the mini-van was the only automatic they had for us.

We got in our bus, or mini-van, and took off out of Marseille heading towards the Luberon. The Luberon is a region of Provence North of Marseille.

Our first stop of the day was a market in Lourmarin for picnic supplies. Nell & Dylan had thought ahead and packed water for us and a bottle of wine they had purchased the last time they had visited the Luberon. So all we needed to do was pick up the rest of the items we wanted. We bought sausages (duck, fig, nature, and pepper), formage (gruyere and chevre), bread, melon, cherries, olives (green and black), apero garlic (cloves of garlic with herbs that were very mild and tasty), tomato spread, coconut cookies, and nougat.

The market was filled with English speaking people, both American and British. No surprise since it's tourist season here. There were booths of food, clothing, spices, flowers, soaps, lavender items, kitchen utensils, and so much more. It was a gigantic market and we really could have spent hours shopping there.

Pictures of the market are HERE

Our next stop of the day was at l'Enclos des bories which is a village of neolithic ruins out in the middle of nowhere. The drive out to them was on a tiny, dirt road that looked like it was made for four-wheelers only. Nell & Dylan had been out there before, so they knew how to get out there and wanted us to see the ruins.

Apparently, the property is the familial property of the lady who was there to greet us and give us a tour. She wants to preserve the history of the ruins, and is looking for archeologists to do some research on it. But since the land is not publicly owned, it's hard to find the funding for the research. She charges 5 euros per person to come and walk around the ruins and to explore. She told us a bit about the bories (stone beehive huts) and about the people who had lived there SO many years ago. We couldn't figure out if the people had been uber short, since we had to bend all the way down to get in and out of the huts, or if they had just made the openings that way for protection.

The owner said that she had grown up playing in the bories and wanted to keep it as preserved as possible now that she was older. I kept imagining what it would be like to have grown up playing in the village. The ruins were quite spread out. We found 3 wells, many huts, areas that were obviously where they had kept animals, a grove of olive trees, murder holes, and a view over the countryside that was breathtaking. We could see the village of Bonnieux over on the mountainside.

Some interesting history, the bories was used from the 1500-1700's for refuges of various wars in Europe. People have been living in them for pretty much every era, which is hard to imagine.

I bet you are wondering what "murder holes" are. :) Check out my pictures HERE and find out.

We were getting hungry, so we decided to find a spot to have our picnic. The hot, humid, 90 degree weather had changed and it was starting to rain a little bit and get cooler as we drove through the countryside. We passed many vineyards, groves of cherry trees, olive groves, and beautiful Provencal homes dotting the landscape.

Nell had wanted to picnic along a wine walk. It ended up being too hot to do the wine walk, but we found a perfect picnic spot near Oppède Le Vieux. When driving up to Oppède Le Vieux, you eventually come to a parking lot that says that parking is obligatory and that it costs 3 euros to do so. Later, we found out that we could have driven past the parking lot and gone straight into the village.
We parked, grabbed our loot, and walked into the woods looking for a spot for our picnic. We passed a mini field of lavendine in bloom, buzzing with bees and butterflies. Lavendine is a hybrid of two types of lavender plants.

There was a perfect spot just down from the field to spread out our blanket and eat. The food from the market was perfect and the wine that Nell & Dylan had brought was a wonderful accompaniment.

While eating, we saw something that looked like a miniature hummingbird flying around us in the flowers. It wasn't moving quite like a hummingbird, but it looked like one. I got closer to it and discovered it was some strange mothlike creature that was disguised like a hummingbird. It was one of the strangest things I have ever seen!

After our picnic, we walked around the lavendine, rosemary, juniper, and then headed up the hill to see the village which is nestled into the mountain. The village seemed a bit far to walk with everything else we wanted to see in a day, so we passed it up. Chris was disappointed, but it leaves something to do the next time we go there.

We jumped back in the car, and heading down the road, we stopped off at two local wineries for tasting. The Luberon is known for Rose wines, but their oak cask rouge wine is very tasty.

Pictures are HERE

Our journey continued and our next stop was the Abbe de Senanque. We pulled off the road and took a few pictures of the Abbe down in the valley from the mountainside road. The road going down was so small, and we could only hope that no one would head towards us since there was only one pull off point.

The lavender fields in front of the abbe were a little disappointing. I had expected beautiful, full bloom lavender fields, but instead, the lavender hadn't bloomed yet. I believe it was late in blooming due to being down in the valley. It was still beautiful, but I had really wanted to see the bright purple blooms.

There were lots of Asians around the abbe, which we thought was a little strange, until we saw a bride and groom getting their pictures taken in the lavender field. We rarely see Asians in Southern France.

We didn't do the tour of the abbe, but we did go inside the bookstore. We were looking around and heard someone up at the cashier asking, in English, for a phone card. A young couple needed to make a phone call to their hotel, and a phone card for the pay phone was going to cost them 7 euros. Nell offered to let them use her cell phone to call, and we started up a long conversation with them. It turns out, they live in Louisville, KY, but are orginally from Michigan. They were very nice and we chatted with them for a while, as Nell tried to get a signal on her cell. We never did get reception for them to call, but had a good time talking with them about Louisville and France.

Near the abbe is the town of Gordes. According to Nell's guidebook, the town is "too beautiful for its own good." This was an accurate description! The town was a gorgeous, hillside village with a large chateau at the top. We stopped and had some drinks at a cafe and ended up having to go hide from the rain for a bit as it poured. Once the rain stopped, we walked around the village and found a lookout point over the valley. After taking a few pictures, and looking at the lavender fields in the distance, a rainbow appeared! Then a second arch started to appear next to it! Gordes being "too beautiful" was quite true!

More pictures HERE

We drove through the country, passing lavender fields and fields of sunflowers that have not yet opened. If only we could drive the same route in August when the sunflowers would be in bloom!

The village of Roussillon was our last stop of the day. Roussillon is a small village with deep red clay for soil. We believe that the red clay used to create Santon must come from this region. The buildings were vibrant red and burnt sienna as the sun was setting. At first, we were the only one's walking through the town, other than ALL the stray cats! There was a stray cat every few feet in the village. It was very sad to see so many kitties, some not in such great shape, out and about.

We found a lovely cafe with a terrace for dinner. The plate of the day was cabillard fish with a butter sauce, garlic green beans, and rice or duck with pepper sauce. Chris & I had the fish and it was excellent! For dessert, creme brulee for moi, and Chris had figues cooked in honey with vanilla ice cream!

The drive back home was long, and in the dark. We didn't get back to Marseille until close to midnight. We were pretty tired by the end of the day, but amazed by the amount of things we did and saw! Chris and I are so happy that we were able to do it before leaving Provence. The Luberon is a definite must see when in the area.

Last photo album of the day can be found HERE

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